Political Science

Jonathan Chapman, a job market candidate at CalTech, has a new paper (pdf) which suggests that was the case:

Many theories of democratization suggest that extending the right to vote will lead to increased government expenditure (e.g. Meltzer and Richard, 1981; Lizzeri and Persico, 2004; Acemoglu and Robinson, 2000). However, these models frequently assume that government can engage in transfer expenditure, which is often not true for local governments. This paper presents and tests a model in which government expenditure is limited to the provision of public goods. The model predicts that the poor and the rich desire lower public goods expenditure than the middle class: the rich  because of the relatively high tax burden, and the poor because of a high marginal utility of consumption. Consequently extensions of the franchise to the poor can be associated with declines in government expenditure on public goods. This prediction is tested using a new dataset of local  government financial accounts in England between 1867 and 1900, which captures government expenditure on key infrastructure projects that are not included in many studies of national democratic reform. The empirical analysis exploits plausibly exogenous variation in the extent of the franchise to identify the effects of extending voting rights to the poor. The results show strong support for the theoretical prediction: expenditure increased following relatively small extensions of the franchise, but fell following extensions of the franchise beyond around 50% of the adult male population.

It is perhaps too quick a jump from 19th century England to contemporary advanced economies.  Still, it is an interesting hypothesis that the current thinning out of the middle class will decrease the political support for infrastructure investment.

The story is here, his book is Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China.  Previous MR coverage is here, it was one of my favorite non-fiction books of the year.

Robin Hanson reports:

My last post got me thinking about the liberal vs. conservative slant of different jobs. Here are two sources of data.

Consider some jobs that lean conservative: police, doctor, religious worker, insurance broker. These seem to be jobs where there are rare big bad things that can go wrong, and you want to trust workers to keep those from happening. That explanation can also makes some sense of these other conservative jobs: graders & sorters, electrical contractors, car dealers, truckers, coal miners, construction workers, gas service station workers, non-professor scientist. Conservatives are more focused on fear of bad things, and protecting against them.

Now consider a set of jobs that lean liberal: professor, journalist, artist, musician, author. From these you might focus on the fact that these jobs have rare but big upsides. So the focus here might be on the small chance that a worker will be come a rare huge success. This plausibly seems the opposite of a conservative focus on rare big losses.

But consider these other liberal jobs: psychiatrist, lawyer, teacher. Here the focus might be just on people who talk well. And that can also make sense of many of the previous list of liberal jobs. It might also makes sense of another big liberal job: civil servant.

I’m not suggesting these are the only factors that influence which jobs are liberal vs. conservative, but they do seem worth exploring.

Which other factors might help explain the distribution of conservative vs. liberal jobs?

In my article for a Cato Symposium I cite foreign policy:

It is possible that we are still living inside the biggest bubble of them all and that is called “the peace bubble.” I’ve also heard this described as the bubble of “Pax Americana,” although that is a more partisan take on the role of America in global peace. You might think the chance of this being a “peace bubble” is say only five or ten percent. Maybe so, but still in expected value terms that is still the most important issue to worry about. The breaking of that peace bubble on a larger scale could endanger all of the progress and accumulated well-being of the human race, including the United States.

Let’s not forget that over the next one hundred years, if the world remains relatively peaceful, it is unlikely that most global innovation will come from the United States. China in particular may assume a major role as a generator of new ideas, just as the United States supplied a wide variety of useful innovations to Great Britain starting in the mid to late 19th century. Even if a “Fortress America” could survive geopolitical turmoil in the broader world, it would be a much poorer place. We rely on the rest of the world for inspiration, for creation, for appreciation, for increasing market size and thus the spurring of American innovations, and of course we rely on the rest of the world for innovations more directly. A future America in a chaotic world is much, much poorer and riskier than a future America in a peaceful world.

I should note that I am indebted to John Nye and Garry Kasparov for this notion of Pax Americana as the biggest bubble of them all.  There are several other arguments in the piece, for instance:

When electing a President or a Congress, foreign policy should be by far our number one concern. That said, I don’t think there is any simple formula for getting foreign policy right. Unlike many libertarians, I do not adhere to a strictly non-interventionist stance on foreign policy. I believe in alliances among the world’s relatively free and (one hopes) peaceful nations. I believe that American intervention has at some critical times led to much greater freedom and prosperity. Without the current and past American security umbrella, for instance, I believe much of Asia would be a far less free place than it is today, starting but not ending with Taiwan and South Korea.

I am, however, also skeptical of conservative or hawkish claims that we simply need to get tough with the bad guys in the world. A market-oriented economist, as I view myself, should be well aware of the general arguments about the difficulty of government planning and the importance of unforeseen, unintended consequences from government action. Furthermore government policies, once they get underway, are often hijacked by special interest groups or by voters who are uninformed, misinformed, or who react emotionally rather than analytically. We should not be especially optimistic about the ability of our government to pull off successful foreign interventions.

Daniel Larison comments on me here (when I write “For better or worse,” that means I am not judging a possible Syria intervention, contra Larison.  Otherwise the popularity of drones is a good example of American squeamishness, another example being our early withdrawal from Iraq.)  The broader symposium is here, it has many quality contributors.  Here is Eli Dourado on incentive pay for Congress.

Addendum: Arnold Kling comments.

This passage is from Gao Wenqian’s Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary:

Doctors in China could not conduct major medical procedures on top leaders without the approval of the Politburo Standing Committee.  Such was the long-standing rule.  Thus, in 1975, Deng Ziaoping and Marshal Ye Jianying, leaders among the old CCP cadres who had generally despised the Cultural Revolution and had shown little enthusiasm for the political style of the mercurial Jiang Qing, now had to negotiate emergency surgery for Zhou Enlai with her allies Wang Hongwen and Zhang Chunqiao.  For once, these tough political adversaries managed to see eye-to-eye.  They all gave their consent to surgery and sent their decision to Mao, who always had the final say.

Zhou Enlai had four operations before dying of cancer.  For the last two operations, however, Mao instructed the doctors to tell Zhou that in fact he was being cured and the tumors were removed.  He ceased to believe that when the unbearable pain arrived.

We’ve now seen a good twenty-five years of autocrats backing down, ceding power, and refusing to escalate, starting  around 1989 if not earlier.  Arguably North Korea and Saddam Hussein have been partial exceptions, but even there North Korea has stayed in its shell and Saddam had in fact largely disarmed his WMD.  We also see many autocrats — most notably those of China — who pursue remarkably sophisticated courses of action.  Just think how much more deftly they handled Occupy Hong Kong than the Ferguson police dealt with their situation.  Even the Iranian leaders seem quite sophisticated, even though most of us do not share their goals or endorse their means.

I call it The Great Autocrat Moderation.

If we look back in history, are autocrats generally this rational and conciliatory?  I am struck reading the new Andrew Roberts biography of Napoleon how he grew drunk with success and overreached and of course eventually failed (twice).  Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao are some additional obvious examples of autocrats who, in terms of procedural rationality, simply collapsed at some point and very dramatically overreached.

Of course these are tricky examples.  The most famous autocrats are arguably going to be more subject to overreach, which in part drives their fame (infamy), and so if we consult our historical memories we may be selecting for overreach.  Your typical earlier autocrat may have been more rational than this list of ambitious tyrants might imply.  Was the typical dictator of Paraguay, historically speaking, really so irrational?  Still, it does seem that autocrats have been relatively benign as of late.

So how about Putin?  Is he like the autocrats of the last twenty-five years, or he is more like Napoleon and Mussolini with regard to his long-term procedural rationality?

I do not myself expect The Great Autocrat Moderation to continue for much longer. Let us not forget that some autocratic “tournaments” select for overreach, namely the autocrat had to think he could, against long odds, rise to the top and stay there.

I am indebted to a conversation with John Nye about the topics of this blog post.

D.C. police have made plans for millions of dollars in anticipated proceeds from future civil seizures of cash and property, even though federal guidelines say “agencies may not commit” to such spending in advance, documents show.

The city’s proposed budget and financial plan for fiscal 2015 includes about $2.7 million for the District police department’s “special purpose fund” through 2018. The fund covers payments for informants and rewards.

As to how the underlying incentives work, this will refresh your memory:

Civil forfeiture laws permit local and state police to take cash, cars, homes and other property from people suspected of involvement in drug trafficking or other wrongdoing without proving a crime has occurred. Police can make seizures under state or federal laws.

Since 2009, D.C. officers have made more than 12,000 seizures under city and federal laws, according to records and data obtained from the city by The Washington Post through the District’s open records law. Half of the more than $5.5 million in cash seizures were for $141 or less, with more than a thousand for less than $20. D.C. police have seized more than 1,000 cars, some for minor offenses allegedly committed by the children or friends of the vehicle owners, documents show.

When D.C. police seize cash or property under District law, the proceeds go into the city’s general fund. But proceeds of seizures made under federal law go directly to the police department through the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, which allows local departments to join with federal agencies in forfeitures and keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds.

That is all from Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Steve Rich, another installment in their pathbreaking series, scroll down to the bottom of the page for links to the rest.

Losing to Win

by on November 16, 2014 at 1:27 am in Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the title of a paper from Kai Steverson, who is on the job market from Princeton this year:

Abstract: We study an infinite horizon model of political competition where parties face a trade-off between winning today and winning tomorrow. Parties choose between nominating moderates, who are more viable, or partisans, who can energize the base and draw in new voters which helps win future elections. Only moderates can win in equilibrium and so the winning party fails to invest in its base and has a weaker future. Hence the longer a party is in power the more likely they are to lose, a pattern that finds strong support in the data. This dynamic also creates an electoral cycle where parties regularly take turns in power.

The paper is here (pdf), Kai’s job market paper on Tiebout competition and minorities is here (pdf), it covers how mobility can lead to a race to the bottom when it comes to protecting the rights of minority workers.

Over the more than four centuries from the time of Ivan the Terrible, Russia expanded an average of fifty square miles per day.

That is from the extraordinary new Stephen Kotkin biography of Stalin, titled Stalin.  The first volume of 949 pp. brings the reader up only until 1928.  A lot still happened after that.

There are already more speakers of Aramaic in metropolitan Detroit (around a hundred thousand) than in Baghdad…

That is from Christian Caryl in the 4 December 2014 New York Review of Books, reviewing Gerald Russell’s Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East.

Both sides put out their joint statement, the U.S. issuing it via the White House and China releasing it through the official Xinhua News Agency. But whereas one side gave it a high gloss, the other seemed to be trying to bury it under the rug. The top story on the website affiliated with the Communist Party flagship paper The People’s Daily was about Xi and Obama meeting the press  – but the article made no reference to the climate agreement. Other stories on the homepage touched on the climate statement but tended to relegate it to the latter half of the article, and omitted the American-style superlatives. The popular Beijing News, a state-run paper known for gently testing the editorial boundaries, also didn’t mention the climate deal in its Nov. 12 cover story on the APEC meeting that brought Obama to China. It focused instead on the meeting’s anti-corruption accord and progress on plans for a pan-Asian free trade zone spearheaded by China.

Here is one reason why:

Beijing is under fire domestically for its unsuccessful efforts to curb local air pollution, noting that people were furious that authorities managed to clear the air for the visiting APEC dignitaries but can’t do it on a daily basis for their own citizens. ” There may be worries that focusing on climate change rather than air pollution doesn’t meet the public’s main concerns,” Seligsohn said via email.

That is all from a good piece by Alexa Olesen at Foreign Policy.

The House of Lords, that is:

One hundred and thirteen draw paychecks from financial-services firms. Twenty-six are paid by resource-extraction companies. Twenty work for foreign governments, in capacities that include advising officials on policy and consulting for government-controlled companies.

Some of those jobs materialized after they joined the House of Lords.

There is much more here, from Justin Scheck and Charles Forelle.  For the pointer I thank Matthew A. Petersen.

This paper I had neglected, now it is time to remedy that.  The authors are Francisco J. Buera, Alexander Monge-Narajo, and Giorgio E. Primiceri, and it was published in Econometrica 2011:

We study the evolution of market-oriented policies over time and across countries. We consider a model in which own and neighbors’ past experiences influence policy choices through their effect on policymakers’ beliefs. We estimate the model using a large panel of countries and find that it fits a large fraction of the policy choices observed in the postwar data, including the slow adoption of liberal policies. Our model also predicts that there would be reversals to state intervention if nowadays the world was hit by a shock of the size of the Great Depression.

I don’t find that abstract so informative, this paper has a few main results:

1. Policymakers have priors about how good the market economy is, and they revise those views — and thus revise policy — as they observe their own growth results and those of their neighbors.  Success for market economies tends to breed greater reliance on markets.

2. A simple learning model predicts about 97% of the policy choices observed in the data.  Perhaps more importantly, the model accounts for more than 77% of the observed policy switches over a three-year time window.

3. Evolving beliefs — and not just the fixed demographic characteristics of countries — are critical for understanding policy decisions.

4. It was probably the growth collapse of the late 1970s for interventionist countries which led to a greater reliance on markets.

5. Adjustment toward better-performing policies is often quite slow.  In part this is because policymakers attribute the superior performance of other countries to heterogeneity rather than policy per se.

6. A global Great Depression would lead to a significant switch back to state interventionism.

7. If I understand the model correctly (and I am making a bit of a leap in interpretation here), it implies a Chinese growth slowdown will lead to greater state intervention in China, not greater liberalization.

The pointer to this paper is from Luis Garicano.

That is the topic of my latest column for The Upshot at The New York Times, here is an excerpt:

Unfortunately, regions with rapidly growing populations, like Africa and South Asia, often have lower living standards. In our likely global future, these regions will have more people than they can comfortably support, while many countries in the West and in East Asia will have too few young people for prosperous economies.

As an economist, I see an obvious solution: Relatively underpopulated and highly developed countries could profitably take in young Africans and South Asians — and both sides would gain. Yet it’s far from clear that all nations that could benefit from this policy would entertain it, partly because of persistent racial and cultural bias. There is also the legitimate question of how quickly immigrants can adjust to new environments, especially if they are arriving with weak educational backgrounds as the job market demands ever-stronger skills.

…If you’re not convinced that a declining population is a problem, consider Japan. In terms of real gross domestic product per hour worked, Japan has continued to have good performance, but it has a fundamental problem: The working-age population has been declining since about 1997. And Japan’s overall population has been growing older, so with fewer workers supporting so many retirees, national savings will dwindle and resources will be diverted from urgent tasks like revitalizing companies and otherwise invigorating the economy. Japan has already gone from being a miracle exporter to a country that runs steady trade deficits. Perhaps there is simply no narrowly economic recipe to keep its economy growing; Edward Hugh made this argument in his recent ebook, “The A B E of Economics.”

I am extremely pessimistic that we will manage to achieve any more than a small amount of workable population transfers.  Furthermore potential underpopulation is one of the most serious and underrated problems today, as Robin Hanson argued a few years ago.

There is also this bit, the first sentence of which may remind you of Steve Sailer:

France, Israel and Singapore are three countries where population issues are being discussed quite frankly; all have explicit public policies to encourage more births. And more countries will probably go down this route. Encouraging people to have more children, and generally bidding for human talent, may characterize the economic policies of the future, just as cities and states today bid for football stadiums and factories.

By the way, recent reports indicate that the relaxation of China’s one-child policy have led to many fewer births than were expected.  And this new paper (pdf) indicate that immigrant inflows raise the birth rates of native women by making child care more affordable.

The excellent Akos Lada, a graduate student at Harvard, has a new paper on why countries sometimes invade their neighbors, it is called “The Dark Side of Attraction,” the abstract is here:

I argue that the diffusion of domestic political institutions is a source of wars. In the presence of an inspiring foreign regime, repressive elites fear that their citizens emulate the foreign example and revolt. As a result, a dictator starts a war against an attractive foreign regime, seeking to destroy this alternative model. Such wars are particularly likely when there are strong religious, ethnic or cultural ties between the dictator’s opposition and the inspiring country – connections that allow citizens to draw easy comparisons. My posited mechanism explains three case studies. The first describes the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1849. The second case study analyzes the origins of the First World War (1914-8), where Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia. The final case study discusses the Iran-Iraq War (1980-8). In all three cases, a dictator started a war in order to extinguish the foreign flame that fueled his domestic opposition.

Akos occasionally writes blog posts here.  Here is our previous coverage of Akos Lada — he stands a good chance of being one of the significant new “big picture” thinkers in economics.